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    On your bike: Cycling to work linked with large health benefits

    by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, April 21st, 2017


    FILE PHOTO: Commuters cycle through Oxford Circus in London, Britain, August 5, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

    People who cycle to work have a substantially lower risk of developing cancer or heart disease or dying prematurely, and governments should do all they can to encourage more active commuting, scientists said on Thursday.

    In a study published in the BMJ British medical journal, the researchers found that cycling to work was linked to the most significant health benefits – including a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer and a 46 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to non-active commuters.

    Walking to work was linked to a 27 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from it, though it also appeared to have no effect on cancer risk or overall premature death risk, the study showed.

    The research involved 264,377 people with an average age of 53 whose data forms part of the UK Biobank – a database of biological information from half a million British adults.

    Since the study was observational, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, the researchers said. Its findings could also be affected by some confounding factors, they added, including that the mode and distance of commuting was self-reported, rather than objectively measured.

    However, “the findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling”, they said.

    These would include creating more cycle lanes, introducing more bike buying or hiring schemes, and providing better access for cyclists on public transport.

    Lars Bo Andersen, a professor at the Western Norwegian University of Applied Sciences, who was not directly involved in the research but wrote a commentary on it in the BMJ, said its findings “are a clear call for political action on active commuting”, saying this had the potential to significantly improve public health by reducing rates of chronic disease.

    “A shift from cars to more active modes of travel will also decrease traffic in congested city centers and help reduce air pollution, with further benefits for health,” he said.

    (Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Gareth Jones)

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    Belgium extends commuter benefits to all electric bicycles

    by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

    A cyclist steers his bicycle on a beach facing the North Sea near the village of De Haan, Belgium January 23, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

    Belgium on Thursday extended commuter tax benefits for cyclists traveling to work on any electric bicycles.

    Employers in Belgium can currently reward staff if they come to work on a bicycle, paying them for every kilometer they cycle, in an effort to promote environmentalism and a healthier lifestyle.

    Commuters can get 23 cents ($0.26) per km cycled between their home and their place of work.

    The new law covers electric bicycles that can reach up to 45 km per hour (28 mph). Those limited to 25 kmh were previously covered.

    “We want to encourage cycling for commutes for obvious reasons, notwithstanding the type of bicycle used,” Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said in a statement.

    Belgium paid out some 93 million euros in 2015 for more than 400,000 users of the scheme which has almost doubled since 2009.

    (Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop/Jeremy Gaunt)

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    Fine particles in traffic pollution tied to lower ‘good’ cholesterol

    by UNTV News   |   Posted on Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

    Gridlock traffic is pictured on highway 395 as people evacuate Washington after an earthquake August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed

    (Reuters Health) – People who live near sources of heavy traffic exhaust may be at higher risk of heart disease because the fine particles in this type of pollution lower levels of “good” cholesterol needed for healthy blood flow, a U.S. study suggests.

    High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol helps curb the odds of heart disease by purging blood vessels of debris and lowering levels of triglycerides – dangerous fats that can make blood thicker, stickier and more prone to clots.

    Researchers studied 6,654 adults and found people exposed to higher levels of fine and ultrafine particles in traffic pollution tended to have lower levels of HDL cholesterol in their blood.

    “However, this was a fairly small effect – it wasn’t a dramatic lowering of HDL – so I don’t think this is a huge cause for alarm beyond what we already know about the dangers of air pollution,” said lead study author Griffith Bell of the University of Washington School of Public Health in St. Louis.

    Previous research has linked pollution from traffic exhaust to an increased risk of lung damage and respiratory diseases as well as cardiovascular disease and stroke.

    For the current study, researchers focused on so-called PM 2.5, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can include dust, dirt, soot and smoke. They also looked at what’s known as black carbon, a component of particulate pollution that’s formed by burning various kinds of fuels.

    Study participants were 62 years old on average, and half of them were current or former smokers. About 16 percent of the participants took cholesterol-lowering drugs and roughly 45 percent had high blood pressure. None had cardiovascular disease at the start of the study period.

    Researchers used participants’ home addresses to estimate average exposure to PM 2.5 and black carbon over 12-month, three-month and two-week periods in the year 2000.

    They also looked at blood levels of HDL cholesterol and another measure known as HDL particle count, which some scientists believe may be a more accurate way to assess heart disease risk. Traditional cholesterol tests focus only on the quantity of cholesterol, but newer assessments look at the number of particles carrying cholesterol in the blood.

    Over one year, people exposed to more black carbon had lower levels of HDL cholesterol than participants with little or no exposure to black carbon. The difference was small, but statistically meaningful.

    Higher black carbon exposure over one year was also associated with lower HDL particle counts, but this difference was too small to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance, researchers report in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

    Over three months, however, the picture looked different.

    In this shorter-term analysis, higher levels of fine particulate matter were associated with a lower HDL particle count. The slightly lower level of HDL cholesterol seen with high pollution exposure was too small a difference to rule out chance, but it was still comparable to the rise in HDL seen when smokers quit, the researchers note.

    The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove how traffic fumes directly influence cholesterol or the risk of heart disease.

    One limitation of the study is the potential for pollutants other than black carbon or other fine particles to influence HDL, the authors note. In addition, they only measured HDL once, making it impossible to see how pollution exposures might impact cholesterol over time.

    “We’re still not totally sure why air pollution might lower HDL, but it’s possible that inflammatory responses to air pollution might change some of the proteins in HDL, making it less effective at protecting the body from cardiovascular disease,” Bell said by email. “This is still an ongoing area of research, however.”

    Previous research, however, has shown ambient air pollution such as fine particulate matter can cause hardening of the arteries as well as death from heart disease, said Dr. Frank Gilliland, a researcher at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

    Traffic pollutants have also been linked to death from heart disease in other studies, Gilliland, who wasn’t involved in the current study, said by email.

    “People may want to plan their outdoor activities to avoid areas within 100 meters of major roads and freeways and-or other highly polluted areas,” Gilliland said.

    SOURCE: bit.ly/2oRUwLS Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, online April 13, 2017.

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    Yo-yo dieting hikes death, heart risks in overweight heart disease patients

    by UNTV News   |   Posted on Thursday, April 6th, 2017

    FILE: Reuters

    (Reuters Health) —  For overweight people with heart disease, trying and failing to lose weight may be more dangerous than not losing weight at all.

    A new retrospective study has concluded that patients whose weight fluctuates the most die twice as quickly or have twice the risk of heart attack or stroke compared to people who maintain a stable body weight.

    And their risk of developing diabetes grows by 78 percent.

    The findings, which need to be confirmed by further research, suggest a life-and-death conundrum. Being overweight is already known to pose serious health risks. The new research says dropping the pounds and putting them back on again poses additional dangers.

    If you are an overweight person with heart disease who lost 20 pounds “you are worse off if you drop your weight and gain it back” than if you didn’t lose it in the first place, chief author Dr. Sripal Bangalore, an interventional cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at New York University’s Langone Medical Center told Reuters Health by phone.

    The study is saying, “If you’re going to lose weight, do it right and you need to take it seriously,” said Dr. Ira Ockene, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, who was not connected with the research.

    If people use the results as an excuse not to drop unhealthy pounds, “that would be unfortunate,” Ockene told Reuters Health. “There’s a lot of data that says if you lose weight and keep it off, you do better.”

    “Hopefully this will be used as a motivation to lose weight and maintain weight,” Bangalore said.

    Such yo-yo dieting, where a person’s weight fluctuates repeatedly, is already known to be unhealthy in people without heart disease.

    The new study in the New England Journal of Medicine explored whether that was specifically true for people with coronary artery disease, where fatty deposits have built up in the blood vessels feeding the heart muscle. The researchers recycled data from 9,509 volunteers who were part of a Lipitor study published in 2005 and sponsored by Pfizer.

    Another important limitation of the study: It did not examine whether patients lost weight because they tried to, or if their weight fluctuated because they were battling illness.

    After adjusting for various factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, race, gender, diabetes, cholesterol levels and treatment with Lipitor, the Bangalore team found that people whose weights fluctuated the most were 2.24 times more likely to die from any cause within about five years, 2.17 times more likely to have a heart attack and 2.36 times more likely to be hit with a stroke than people whose weights were the most stable.

    For every 3- or 4-pound change in body weight, their risk of heart attack, cardiac arrest, chest pain, death from heart disease or the need for surgery to open a clogged artery rose by 4 percent.

    The dangers posed by shifting weight were least pronounced in people who had a normal weight to begin with.

    Ockene said people need to put weight loss in perspective.

    “Studies show people set unattainable goals. Heavy people say, ‘I need to lose 40 pounds’ and they set a goal that is largely unattainable. And when they lose 10 pounds they’re disappointed. And they say, ‘What the hell’ and they just gain it back,” he said.

    “But if you lose 10 pounds and keep it off, your diabetes will be better, your blood pressure will be better, your lipids will be better, a lot of things will be better. You don’t need to lose 30 or 40 pounds,” he said. “That’s an important issue for people to understand.”

    As a typical example of patients in the study whose weights fluctuated significantly, the researchers cited the case of a 53-year-old man whose weight went from 231 pounds to 244 pounds three months later, then dropped to 211 pounds eighteen months later before going up to 253 pounds after another 18 months had passed. — The dangers posed by shifting weight were least pronounced in people who had a normal weight to begin with.

    Ockene said people need to put weight loss in perspective.

    “Studies show people set unattainable goals. Heavy people say, ‘I need to lose 40 pounds’ and they set a goal that is largely unattainable. And when they lose 10 pounds they’re disappointed. And they say, ‘What the hell’ and they just gain it back,” he said.

    “But if you lose 10 pounds and keep it off, your diabetes will be better, your blood pressure will be better, your lipids will be better, a lot of things will be better. You don’t need to lose 30 or 40 pounds,” he said. “That’s an important issue for people to understand.”

    As a typical example of patients in the study whose weights fluctuated significantly, the researchers cited the case of a 53-year-old man whose weight went from 231 pounds to 244 pounds three months later, then dropped to 211 pounds eighteen months later before going up to 253 pounds after another 18 months had passed. — By Gene Emery

    SOURCE: bit.ly/2nognpI New England Journal of Medicine, online April 5, 2017.

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